Trails Through History: Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

CEDARTOWN REMOVAL CAMP- This park located northeast of the above-named street corner was the location of one of several camps where nearby Cherokee were brought before being taken to larger camps in southeastern Tennessee. The camp, which was an ad hoc military installation, was active during the late spring and early summer of 1838. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service


By Carla Charter

The Indian Removal Act, an 1830 federal policy called for the Cherokee and four other Southeastern tribes to give up their land in exchange for land west of the Mississippi. These tribes were moved west on a series of trails, now known as the Trail of Tears. The story of the Cherokee forced removal is preserved today by the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

In May 1838 the forced removal process began with army troops and state militia moving into the Cherokee homelands, evicting more than 16,000 members of the Cherokee tribes. “They were forcibly removed as white men wanted the land for agriculture, gold, and the growth of the American Plantation in the South,“ according to Carol S. Clark, Park Ranger Interpretive Specialist at the National Park Service.

The Cherokees were first sent to what were called “Round-up camps,” and then one of three emigration camps before being sent West in detachments of 1,000 people. “They were kept in camps for months,” Clark said.

Almost 1,000 Cherokees were lost along the Trail of Tears. “There were losses and additions.  The losses were due to sickness, disease and trauma. 1,000 Cherokees died on the trail and 4,000 to 5,000 died as a result of the removal,” she continued.

Each detachment arrived in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, at a specific dispersal point. where a homestead served as a place for depot allocations.  “They got their supplies and struck out on their own. They had tents and shelters and started building,“  Clark said.

The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail created in 1988, follows the original Trail of Tears, over 5,000 miles through Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma connecting sites where the Cherokees originally forced on the march had walked and camped. “The National Park Service works with entities along this historic trail to tell the story of the Cherokee removal and also has been able to tell the removal stories of the other four southeast tribes the Creek, Choctaw, Seminole and Chickasaw where their historic sites overlap with the trail,” Clark said.

“The trail is important part of our American heritage. We are still living in a place where Civil Rights matter. This is a story about civil rights, it’s about an immigration story.  It elevates the discussion of civil rights and what it means to be a citizen. and the process of how we got here,” Clark continued. More information on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail can be found at